Colin Kennedy, the magazine's editor-in-chief, said: "We're very keen, if not to educate people, to introduce them to a broad church of movies. Giving an award to Tony is, in a sense, about a time in Hollywood. It's an open doorway to a huge number of movies that he was in with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Monroe ... I think he's an under-rated actor. He doesn't take himself too seriously and, when you don't, it lets others not take you seriously too."
Curtis, 80, who played the definitive cinematic drag act with Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, was presented with the award by his co-star in The Persuaders, Roger Moore.
Curtis was chosen by the magazine staff but most of the honours were voted for by readers, presenting a different view of the year in film to other ceremonies. Several films which have been ignored by the critics and industry insiders found favour with the ordinary cinema-goer.
King Kong was chosen as best film, a prize which was collected by its gorilla impersonator, Andy Serkis. Pride and Prejudice was named best British film.
Steve Box and Nick Park took the best director(s) award for the first full-length animated version of Wallace and Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It had been named best British film at the Baftas and best animation at the Oscars, although Steven Spielberg's company, DreamWorks, which backed it, said last week it had failed to perform as well as hoped at the box office. It has grossed more than £100m to date.
Following her success at the Baftas with her role in Crash, Thandie Newton was named best actress, beating rivals including the King Kong star Naomi Watts and Keira Knightley from Pride and Prejudice.
Johnny Depp's role as the eccentric sweets entrepreneur in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory won him the best actor accolade. His rivals had included Andy Serkis, whose research among real gorillas informed his performance as King Kong. He played in a gorilla muscle suit with his facial expressions enhanced by computer graphics.
Despite reservations from the critics, the last film in the Star Wars series, Revenge of the Sith, took two awards, for best science-fiction/fantasy and the scene of the year, for the birth of its villain, Darth Vader.
At the opposite end of the scale, The Descent, a low-budget British movie, was named best horror film.
Mr Kennedy said: "Many of our winners will never trouble the [American Oscars] Academy but ask any real movie fan and they'll agree: horror movies don't come any more terrifying than The Descent, comedies can't get funnier than Team America: World Police and few scenes ever filmed can rival the historical impact of the birth of Darth Vader."
Special honours, too, went to the Harry Potter films for their contribution to British cinema worldwide. Their teenage stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint received the award.
The director Stephen Frears, whose career includes Dangerous Liaisons, My Beautiful Laundrette and Dirty Pretty Things, was given an "inspiration" award. Mr Kennedy said: "He's amassed a varied body of work with good films across every genre," .
Kelly Reilly, one of the stars of his latest film, Mrs Henderson Presents, took the best newcomer prize.
Another British film veteran, Brian Cox, was presented with the icon award for a career spanning Manhunter, Braveheart, Rushmore and Troy.
* Best film King Kong
* Best British film Pride and Prejudice
* Best director(s) Steve Box & Nick Park for Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
* Best actor Johnny Depp for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
* Best actress Thandie Newton in Crash
* Best newcomer Kelly Reilly for Mrs Henderson Presents/ Pride and Prejudice
* Best fantasy/ science-Ffction Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
* Best comedy Team America: World Police
* Best thriller Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
* Best horror The Descent
* Scene of the year The birth of Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
* Inspiration award Stephen Frears
* Icon award Brian Cox
* Outstanding contribution award The Harry Potter films
* Lifetime achievement award Tony Curtis
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